That was the central question this morning during a hearing in Missouri's Eastern District Court of Appeals downtown. And things got a bit heated.
Developer Paul McKee
himself showed up to the proceeding -- the first time in this particular lawsuit. For years, he's been touting his $8.1 billion plan to transform 1,100 acres of North St. Louis, and insists that he'd been specific enough when he convinced the Board of Aldermen several years ago to pledge $390 in public subsidies for his vision.
But a group of Fifth Ward residents who live in the plan's footprint beg to differ, and state circuit judge Robert H. Dierker
has agreed with them: State statute, Dierker ruled in July 2010, requires a developer to describe a specific "project."
Legislators did not define project when they wrote the law, so Dierker
came up with his own. And McKee, he felt, failed to present any specific
Never once this morning did McKee's lawyer, Paul Puricelli
, use the term "judicial activism" as he argued before Judges Robert Dowd, Mary Hoff and Sherri Sullivan
But he definitely implied it by saying that Dierker had, with his
ruling, "grafted" and "added" a "new definition" to the statute that
legislators had never intended.
(Which would be quite ironic if true, since Judge Dierker is famously conservative
that the plaintiffs never brought up the "project" issue
at trial. Then he reiterated his long-standing point that taxpayers
have in no way written Paul McKee a check for $390 million. Rather,
McKee must put up the money himself, do the infrastructure work, have
the city check that work, and only then would he be reimbursed.
McKee whose neck is really on the line, Purcielli asserted -- and isn't
that what we want for desolate North St. Louis? A private investor?
Then it was Bevis Schock
's turn to defend the trial court's ruling and his Fifth Ward residents
isn't about policy," he told the panel. "This is about houses." To
Schock, the proposed development has devalued his clients' land and
imperiled their private property by subjecting it to the threat of
Schock was pressed by the judges for his own
interpretation of "project." He said a "project" would amount to a
specific building that has evidence of financing and its own
And once again, Schock expressed incredulity about McKee's grand scheme.
one looks at the assumptions made," he said, "one realizes that the
plan is from another universe. Twenty percent growth rate? Six hundred
thousand homes valued at $450,000 per unit? That's much higher than we
have in Ladue."
McKee and company's plan, Schock said, is so
unreasonable, "it's impossible that they believe what they submitted." The
only explanation, then: The guy's a liar with his fingers in the public
That was too much for Puricelli.
"If you're going
to accuse my client of intentional misconduct," he railed in his
three-minute reubttal, "you better get it right."
of complaint from the plaintiffs that McKee hadn't been specific enough,
Puricelli said, Schock finally ventured his own definition of
"project": a specific building with specific financing.
said Puricelli. "That's not in the state statute." And to be fair, it
isn't. The question then would be: Does Schock's definition fit with Dierker's
definition? And will the appeals judges even approve of Dierker's definition?
McKee himself betrayed little emotion in the galley. But his
presence was interesting. Maybe he'd taken to heart the comment from
Judge Dierker's July 2010 ruling
: "The Court did not have pleasure of
meeting Paul McKee at trial."
Well, this time they have.
If you're a developer, and you want the Board of Aldermen to subsidize your huge redevelopment, how specific must you be about your plans?